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McDonnells indicted in Star scandal / January 22, 2014

Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and First Lady Maureen G. McDonnell were indicted Tuesday on 14 criminal counts in connection with their gift-taking from Star Scientific, the company founded by Jonnie Williams that has early ties to Mecklenburg County.

The McDonnells were charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of official right, making false statements and obstructing official proceedings. If convicted and given the maximum punishment, the McDonnells could be facing decades in prison and fines in the millions of dollars.

The scandal arose after it was revealed the former governor and his wife accepted lavish gifts and large sums of cash from Williams, founder of Star Scientific, the company that started its initial tobacco operations in 2007 in Mecklenburg County. Star began as Star Tobacco, a prducer of cigarette alternatives, and later switched into the business of making dietary supplements — for which Maureen McDonnell became a strong advocate and supporter.

Court records show that McDonnell had never met Williams until a McDonnell staffer arranged for the use a jet aircraft belonging to Williams during his March 2009 campaign for governor.

During a later campaign trip in October returning from California, court records show, McDonnell and Williams talked about Star Scientific’s products. Days after the trip, a press release was sent to the state Secretary of Health announcing the beginnings of clinical trials on Star’s product anatabine for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

The next month Williams met with the secretary to discuss health benefits of his company’s product, but the secretary rejected his request to go to Florida to a research company working on their product.

In February 2011 both of the McDonnells attended a seminar dinner held at the Jefferson Hotel to discuss the research for the Star products.

For the years of 2009 to 2012 the McDonnells had requested $60,000 loans from Williams to help them cover mortgage payments which were coming due on two Sandbridge rental houses.

Also in April 2011 Maureen McDonnell asked Williams to take her on a shopping trip to New York promising that Williams would be seated next to the governor at an April 13 event there. Williams spent $10,999 on one dress, $5,685 on another and yet another $2,604 during the shopping trip. That same month they met McDonnell’s daughter who was planning a June wedding.

In early May Maureen McDonnell told Williams she and her husband were having serious financial problems and asked for a $50,000 loan, adding they needed another $15,000 to cover their daughter’s wedding expenses. Also that month Williams paid the expense of some $2,380 for the McDonnell sons and future son-in-law to play golf.

On June 1 Maureen McDonnell and her chief of staff flew on Williams jet to Florida where she spoke at an event about Star’s products, saying she was offering the Governor’s Mansion for the official launch of Star’s Anatabloc product.

Williams followed this up with a letter to the governor asking for a Virginia Study of Anatabloc by VCU and the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

In July 2011 Star began exploring possible grant funding for scientific study of their product from the Tobacco Commission, which responded that it did not award grant funding to for-profit entities.

At that point Star turned to U.Va. and VCU to apply for Tobacco Commission grants, saying the product would result in health benefits, adding that both the governor and his wife supported the research of the company’s product. No funds were ever awarded.

In July 2011 Williams invited the governor and wife to spend a private vacation at his Smith Mountain Lake resort and had his Ferreri delivered there for their use, as well as renting a boat for them. The couple also spent another vacation at Williams expense to Cape Cod in August of 2012.

In February 2013 Maureen McDonnell was interviewed by law enforcement about the $50,000 loan and the $15,000 allocated for the daughter’s wedding. At that time she told officers that Williams had been a long time friend and that the clothing he had bought for her back in 2011 had been returned to him to offer for charitable causes.

Yesterday’s indictment resulted in an early announcement from Virginia Sen. Donald McEachin, who said, “Today is a sad day for the Commonwealth of Virginia. If nothing else, this speaks to the urgent need for comprehensive ethics reform.”

Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins added, “It is my fervent hope that the justice system will be allowed to take its course without sensationalism or partisanship. But these indictments are a reminder that our Commonwealth needs to enact ethics reform that promotes open and transparent government.”

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Donald McEachin is wrong. It's a good day for Virginia and the rest of the country because that's one less dishonest politician we'll have to listen to while campaigning for president or worry about ever becoming president. Pat Mullins is either an idiot or thinks the residents of Virginia are idiots. Ethics reform? By who, the dirty politicians with bad morals and no integrity? That's like asking the fox to guard the hen house. Not one of your future ethics reformers spoke out and reported the Governor. It was the chef being investigated by the FBI for embezzling $2300 of food and his subsequent firing by the McDonnell's that led to him dishing his dirt on the governor. You can't legislate morality. Even if it were possible, it sure as hell couldn't be done by those who have none.


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